Menace to society

If you've ever been pierced, you know the trick "on the count of three. One ... two ..." and then they pierce you before three. Catching you off guard is supposed to make it easier, but you're still holding your ear going, "What the hell happened?" Or, if it was your nose they pierced, "Wha uh ell appen?" Or, if it was your tongue, "nnnnnnnnnn."

I digress; the point is, the less you anticipate pain, the easier it is to bear. And I believe the Y2K bug is going to be easier to bear because it's coming before the expected count of three. Y2K is not coming on Jan. 1, 2000. It's coming on May 19, 1999.

The force be gone

This is the day "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" opens. All the geniuses are going to call in sick that day and every subsequent day in order to go sit in a dark theater and watch as more of their one true love is revealed to them. So if you have computer trouble, good luck to you, handsome. All of those people who have never called 1-800-AOL, who have no lines in their foreheads because they have never been puzzled, will be snug in their theater seats for weeks, taking a hiatus from our idiot questions. ("I spilled a 7-Up in the keyboard; is that bad? It was diet; is that still bad? Is blue smoke bad?" ) We could be sitting there for days, shouting over the cubicle wall, "Hey ... I lost my e-mail ... hey ... ," and never will a reply come. There will be no one to fix the server, no one who knows what "Error Type 2" is, no one to say, "Oh, you don't need a new monitor, just hit ..." and then tick off that sequence of keys that makes your life run again. Our world will grind to a halt because the brains of the outfit will all be taking vacation at the same time, enjoying the movie that united them as a people.

It's not going to be Y2K that gets us. It's going to be SW1.

This is not a malicious observation on my part; I myself have a high percentage of nerd in me, but blunted my own brain early on. In fact, a lot of people say of themselves, "I was in danger of becoming one of them. Then I discovered beer and sex." And considering the ubiquity of computers and sci-fi shows, what would have qualified as a nerd when the original "Star Wars" was released is now considered normal.

But still, there is a "them." "Them" are the ones who will camp in line for three weeks to get their tickets. "Them" are the ones who know the model numbers of droids who didn't appear in the film. "Them" didn't get saved by the deus ex brewery. Who are them?

At Disney's Animal Kingdom they give out charts so that when you see a gazelle, a Thompson's gazelle and an ibex, you can tell them apart. Here is a stratification of "them," so that when you walk by that "Phantom Menace" line you can check each of these off on your card, like a bird watcher, and know that you have seen Them. And you will.

Trait secrets

Nerd: Highly intelligent person who wallows in computers and sci-fi but came up for air long enough to learn social skills and perhaps even go for a walk. Dress: Normal. Bumper sticker: "My Rice Krispies Tell Me What To Do." Aspires to be: happy. "Phantom Menace" Thrill Level: Excited, but not Depend Undergarments Excited.

Geek: Loaded with knowledge and ready to impart it in adenoidal tones on any poor bastard in reach. Will talk to self if no one else is available. Nerds can cross over into news and gossip; geeks will swing the conversation around to software, Shatner's singing career or some flub committed at Sci-Fi City's gaming night last week by some other geek. To thwart a geek, post this sign at your desk: "Do not stand here and talk." Dress: X-Men T-shirts. Bumper sticker: "Your simple game amuses me. Bring me your finest meats and cheeses." Aspires to be: Highlander. "Phantom Menace" Thrill Level: Shaking like a chihuahua.

Dork: Not bright and therefore more light-hearted than a geek, a dork hasn't much to say, but will happily say it anyway. Laughs hysterically at own jokes while you smile politely and look for an escape hatch. Must be subdued or run away from. Dress: Prints at war. Bumper sticker: "I'm spending my children's inheritance" (drives mom's car). Aspires to be: geek. "Phantom Menace" Thrill Level: Collapses in lobby from aneurysm; is left on floor by surly ushers.

Doofus: A slower, thicker, more shapeless dork. "Phantom Menace" Thrill Level: Will line up for three weeks and be denied admission because he forgot to buy a ticket.

Now that you know who's who, you'll be more careful about striking up conversations in the theater. And now that you know the nerds are the cool strata of the brain chain, you can just yell for the nerd patrol next time you want to know if "permanent fatal errors" are bad. Just don't expect them to help you for a couple of weeks. It might not have seemed likely 20 years ago, but all of a sudden nerds have better things to do.